How to build a truly engaged team
ALSO: The three invisible pillars of workplace culture that we ignore
I spent time with a company a few months ago who wanted answers to the burnout that was overwhelming its employees.
“Who here spends more than twenty hours a week on video calls?” I naively asked.
“Let me stop you there,” said a woman at the back, “I spend forty hours a week on calls… we all do”.
I started a discussion about ways to reduce time spent in meetings - maybe to try meeting-free days, or to experiment with different approaches to meetings like silent meetings. “We’re not going to change how we meet,” came the response. A regional leader present in the room shrugged to suggest even he couldn’t change anything.
Workplace culture is frequently the product of three things that we barely even notice: buildings, calendars and messaging. Most of us have recognised that the first of these three things, our buildings and how we use them, is far more negotiable than we realised. Organisations who aren’t willing to consider how to adapt the use of the other two shouldn’t expect our experience of work to change. As Zeynep Ton directed us a couple of podcasts ago, to make work better we need to take stuff away from it.
That’s why I was so dispirited to see this article, ‘How to connect with colleagues when you’re very very busy’ in HBR. The article which has a succession of suggestions like ‘make calls in your commute’ is a battleplan of how to end up even more burned out by trying to cram more into our daily lives. Culture lives in the gaps between things, and its not enhanced by cramming more in.
So how can any of us make our teams better? Well today’s podcast is a vital start point.
There are six times as many workers who are disengaged or unengaged with their jobs than who are engaged with them. This was the latest finding of the Gallup Workplace Report that came out earlier this month. I chatted with Anna Sawyer, a principal at the organisation, who took me through the findings and the implications for the rest of us.
Most critically we dwell on the fact that culture seems to exist at a team level (rather than a company) and the actions that any leader can take to change it.
There are huge numbers of links in the show notes for this one - if you hear something you like, tap your screen to find out more.
If you follow US politics there was a grim moment earlier this year when a CNN anchor, Don Lemon, declared that Nikki Haley (aged 51) ‘isn't in her prime’ - this piece covers the fact that ‘women leaders are criticised for their age — no matter how old they are’
For a long time start-ups asked themselves, “how can we compete with Google?” As the tech giant enforces strict office time they’ve just found their answer
Gen Z workers are wondering if losing the office is impacting their experience of work. “I feel disadvantaged as a young person… it’s all pretty difficult to navigate on top of being in your early 20s. Working from home exacerbated that feeling.”
A couple of newsletters ago I mentioned that it is more useful, rather than worrying about productivity, to focus first on dealing with employee turnover. In this post the CIPD put some numbers on this problem:
average UK turnover (quit rate) is 35%, a number that is pulled higher by large numbers in retail and hospitality
Knowledge work turnover tends to be in the 24-29% range
As the CIPD says: ‘where skills are relatively scarce, recruitment is costly or employers have hard-to-fill vacancies, turnover is likely to be problematic’
“If you are paying people to look at a screen, they’ll end up going to the highest bidder. There’s no glue.“- Sir Martin Sorrell on the reason why he’s changed his mind about remote working
This is a deeply moving piece from Nature about the experience of coming out as trans in the scientific profession. Historically many trans people lost their jobs after transitioning. Still now there remains a hostility, bordering on aggression, towards them that isn’t helped by the politicisation of the discourse around gender identity. “You’ll run into lots of jerks; lots of people aren’t going to support you; you may lose friends; you may lose your job. You had to get to the point where you’re like, ‘I have to do this or I’m going to die.’”
In the US it is suggested that AT&T are using their RTO mandate as a way to lay off workers who don’t want to relocate: “15% will face the choice of moving or leaving the company”
For anyone interested in social science research this is a truly stunning story about the plight of Professor Francesca Gino: "Harvard dishonesty expert accused of dishonesty"
Headline: The World’s Biggest Buildings Have Become a Debt Time Bomb. “The YY building, a recently completed redevelopment of Thomson Reuters Corp’s former headquarters that occupies the prime site right outside the Canary Wharf tube station, remains entirely vacant”
Listener reply: I felt I wanted to give space to a different perspective on the Microsoft AI interview that I featured a couple of weeks ago, Tor Ranfelt got in touch (edited for brevity):
”Heard your latest podcast "AI and work...it's imminent", and I'm a little frustrated that it perpetuates the "huge increase in software-developer productivity" myth that is forming around large-language-models(‘A.I’)… If you are making a lot of definitions that follow the same format - then large-language-models are a huge boost… However, the wording used around this makes it sound like software-developers are going to be 37% faster overall. That is wrong, and also problematic if managers think they suddenly have the equivalent of 37% more developers. In that MIT-study it is well defined and limited assignments, but in the real world with real problems and codebases that is almost never the case.
As an example these last three days I have spent hours figuring out how some code was working and *why*. (It's different and complex parts of the system that work together.) I stumbled upon a piece of code I needed to fix and improve… Using a language-model to explain it to me would not yield anything useful because the meaning depends on how the code is used… but during those hours I was mostly thinking. The time typing was probably minutes here and there. As I said very little time spent "coding" (i.e. mathematical problem-solving) is spent typing code.”
Thanks Tor. Other readers should feel free to get in touch if they disagree with something I put out.